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What Singers Can Learn from Leon Russell

Leon Russell on stage

He’s my singing hero, and he shouldn’t be unsung –says Jaime Babbitt.

Who is Leon Russell, you may ask? Leon was born April 2, 1942 and left this world on November 13, 2016. Far too soon.

I know a thing or two about Leon Russell. I idolized him as a teenager and decades later got to tour with him for almost two years as his background vocalist and percussionist.

I listened to his recordings for hundreds of hours, and then heard him sing thousands of songs while standing three feet away from him.

If you don’t know who he is, please do yourself a favor and look him up; I promise that you’ll find a treasure trove of amazing music and lyrics.

He looked like this back in the day:

From a poster I had on my wall when I was 12

And he looked like this when I toured with him:

Leon Russell now

Now you have a reference point. But, what he looks like isn’t important, it’s what he sounds like that’s the main thing. You can learn a lot from Leon’s vocal performances; I sure did.

He believed with all his heart in the old adage: “The show must go on!”

He was in his 60’s when I toured with him; there were times he didn’t feel so great and times he didn’t sound so great. Yet, he knew the importance of giving all he had.

In his own words, from years ago:

Now if you all don’t feel like you’ve had a religious experience tonight when you leave, you just go get your money back. I don’t need it!

And, I can attest to having plenty of religious experiences while performing on stage with him, but that’s a whole ‘nother article!

He paid attention and adhered to the key elements of great vocal performances

While I didn’t hear him doing vocal warm-ups (but he always made me laugh when he heard me doing mine), he didn’t drink or smoke, and always got more rest than any of us.

Sometimes, we would get to a new city and go crazy finding old friends, sightseeing, etc. but Leon would stay put, relax and conserve his energy for the show.

This, as I recall, served him very well one time in Telluride, Colorado. While I was in the clinic with wicked altitude sickness and the contents of an IV fluid bag dripping into my arm (because I had to hang out the night before), Leon was feeling just fine.

He knew exactly who he was vocally and accepted who he was

See, Leon was not a technically trained singer. However, he did not let that stop him from singing and writing soaring, unique melodies that challenged him.

Listen to “A Song For You”, “Masquerade” and “Superstar”, recorded by people like Ray Charles, Donny Hathaway, Karen Carpenter and George Benson. However, Leon’s own performance of “A Song For You” will blow your mind.

It will blow your mind because it’s honest and soul searching – and that, my fellow vocalists, is what we are trying to do here on this planet.

Find out more about Jaime Babbitt at www.workingwithyourvoice.com for bookings, see www.greenhillsguitarstudio.com/voice-lessons You can see more of Jaime’s articles here.

  • John Egan

    Always loved his vocal and musical style, watched a good documentary also which also highlighted his time with Joe Cocker, another amazing vocalist

  • Leon was the Master! I miss him all the time.

  • Me, too, Rick. He was the best!

  • Ah, yes, I know that film, John. I got to meet Joe Cocker and hear him sing live; another other-worldly talented and wonderful spirit.

  • Micky Sands Hannah

    Thanks, Jaime for your kind words about Leon. We (Lifers) enjoyed seeing and hearing you with him. He did leave this earth much too soon and we miss him every day.

  • Thank YOU, Micky. It was always a pleasure and an honor to be onstage with him! I miss him every day, too.

  • Micky Sands Hannah

    Our world is forever changed, but he left an amazing legacy.